Monthly Archives: October 2013

Why German Grocery Shopping Will Drive You To Drink

Seriously. If I could go drunk or drink while shopping, maybe just maybe, the experience would be less stressful. Let me start by saying, I’m Germany’s biggest fan. For the most part, I think they do so many things better (future post to come), but no one is perfect. And the things they aren’t “perfect” in make this expat want to curl up into the fetal position and cry…..or drink. Can you drink while laying curled up in a ball? If so, that’s how you can find me most days after going to the store. 

german grocery shopping

THE STORES. I could probably write a whole post on that alone, so I’ll do my best to summarize. For the most part, there are two stores we frequent the most, Real and Aldi. When we want to live like royalty, we go to Edeka where they have wonderful produce and other products and you pay for it. So, since we are paupers, we stick to Real which is the German equivalent of Wal-Mart. This store serves it’s purpose and its generic brand, Tip, has many good quality items. But the store itself drives me nuts.

First, it’s divided into two sections both which have entry and exit points. It’s very similar to this picture but you actually walk into the store and go to the left for household, baby, electronics, toys, clothes and hygiene. To the right is the actual grocery part of the store with food, produce, butcher and bakery. Each section then, has an entry such as this. 

grocery store entrySource

So why is this so annoying? Well, for starters, the portion with kids toys, sporting gear, etc. is located upstairs to which there is no elevator or ramp. So, if I have my kiddo, I either have to carry him up there or I can’t go. Plus, there are some large items up there, so you just have to carry all that stuff down? This makes no logical sense whatsoever. Secondly, if you need paper towel, diapers and laundry soap in addition to your groceries, you have to shop on the “left side” first, check out and then proceed to the “right side”. When you check out for your second time you usually have to show your receipt for the items you bought on the other side. Again, not logical to me as it is difficult to get out from the left side because of the little gates and you can’t buy the majority of those items on the right side. Are you confused yet? Just writing this is annoying. 

And then there is Aldi. I love this store for its cost-effectiveness and size, but every time I go there, no matter what day or time, 5,000 people come in right after me and swarm the aisles. So, while you are trying to walk through a two-lane aisle imagine someone impatiently waiting behind you to get to the product they need and someone moving slowly in front you AND THEN someone racing past you on the left. I really should take a photo of this phenomenon, but I’m afraid I’d be tackled while in the way of someone getting to their cheese.

To add to this chaos, the employees decide to start stocking and get irritated that you are in the way! Oh and the best part? Expect to wait a good 10-15 minutes at least in line for the one checkout lane they have open. And, if you’re a rebel like me, do this all with a toddler. It’s great fun. They have so much patience and love just sitting still. 

THE CHECKOUT. I have a total love/hate relationship with this one. In Germany, they don’t have employees to bag your groceries. It also costs money for bags (this I love) so you need to bring your own. The problem I have with this is it just stresses me out. Unless you buy a handful of things that you could carry out anyway, you are scrambling to quickly put all of your items in your cart, pay and get out of the way because they start the next person right away whether you have moved your stuff or not. Again, try doing this with a toddler who is trying to pull everything out of the basket you are putting in, trying to climb out of his seat, empty your purse and scream at you for not going quick enough and giving him the attention he so thinks he deserves. In some ways, it’s nice to bag my items because then I don’t have to worry about things like someone putting canned goods on top of my bananas even though I put it in a nice order in the first place. However, when we have to do a large shopping, even with the two of us, it is just stressful. 

WEIGH IT YOURSELF. When buying produce in Germany, you have to pay attention to the price signs to see if the cost is per stück (piece) or per kilo. If it is per kilo, then you need to find the scales, look up the item, weigh it and print out the price tag, placing it on the item to be scanned at checkout. The picture below gives a good idea what they look like. The one at Real has a nice colored touch screen, but other places have no touch screen and you just enter the item number from the price sign.

produce scale

Source

I can’t tell you how many times I have forgotten to do this. Then, at the checkout, I have to do it with people waiting and I hate that. They do have a scale by the register and sometimes they are nice enough to do it for you, but really, just DON’T FORGET. Also, some items may be packaged already and usually this means they are the price for the package, but not always. Another learning lesson for me. In general, I like this; it helps me practice my German and I know the price right away. The annoying part for this difference is that sometimes it is hard to tell if it is per kilo or stück; even M has made the mistake. 

THE PRODUCTS/LANGUAGE BARRIER. So this is not Germany’s fault {obviously}, but just a problem that comes along with being a new expat. For me, there is no running in and out or even knowing what I need when I go. Sure, I have a list, but do they have these things? Can I find this in a German grocery store? (Canned pumpkin  or condensed cream soups are prime examples of some items they don’t carry.) Ok, so I can’t find it, then is there a substitute? What does this word mean? What is this??? 

I have been here almost 6 months now, so for the most part, this is becoming easier and the products aren’t that different from American ones. Sometimes, this is even fun as I get to explore, learn and try new things. However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the ease of shopping in my own country where I know what I want, what I need and where to find it as well as which brands are good, which you can buy generic and which you should avoid completely. 

Here are just a few random things in my kitchen that I had never had prior to moving to Germany.

german food items

While these are a few things about grocery shopping that drive me nuts, keep your eyes open for the follow-up with things that I love!

What are some things that drive you crazy where you live? 

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Five Simple Things #9 {Acknowledging Gratitude}

Another week has passed and it’s time for some reflection to continue my practice in expressing gratitude for the many blessings I have in my life. For those reading this for the first time, you can see where this series began here.

It’s Fall and with that time of year comes a natural tradition of expressing thankfulness. And while, we should be doing it year round, I know it is a struggle for some.

gratitudeAre you more analytical requiring a scientific definition? If so, Hannah at The Lemon Hive, did the research for you! Or do you see gratitude as an emotion, something you can only feel and not explain? Would you describe it as faith or your faith in a higher power?

What does gratitude mean to me? Gratitude is definitely an emotion, a sense of love, relief, happiness, inspiration and awe all wrapped up into one overwhelming feeling that is most difficult to describe. It shines the light on my darkest days and reminds me of the beauty in life. It helps me slow down, stop and embrace those few seconds of wonder that you otherwise miss during these fast-paced lives we have created.

grateful heart

How do you practice gratitude? In no way am I an expert on this subject, but if you are looking to start practicing more gratitude in your life, I can share with you the things I do that have made a difference. Be present. Stop spending so much time on the phone, internet, tv, or what not and be truly present in the moment. When you are, you notice the little things and it’s the little things that make the world so special and unique. Acknowledge. When you notice these little things that make you feel good inside, acknowledge them. Stop and mentally note it. Make a conscious point of realizing how lucky you are, how thankful you are, how wonderful something/someone is. Document It. Use a journal (one specifically for gratitude or otherwise) and write it down.  During those dark days, you will enjoy having a physical place where happy memories are kept.  These weekly Five Simple Things posts, are my journals that I share with all of you. I look back on them when I need to or just because. They serve as good reminders of both harder and easier times, how I waded through rough waters, how I found the beauty in my life and how blessed I am with these precious gifts I have been given.

With that, I leave you with some pretty awesome reflections of gratitude for last week.

  1. I survived one of the hardest teething weeks to date….and so did my monster.
  2. I spoke {texted} with a fellow expat blogger who is having a very difficult pregnancy and helped give her some support and positive energy. She told me I helped her have hope. Wow.
  3. My stepfather (who just recently got out of the hospital) has been home, feeling better and returned to work.
  4. My wonderful friends back in Las Vegas, on short notice, went and helped my mother move some furniture. I can’t even begin to express gratitude for this. It’s so hard to be away from family and not be able to help them.
  5. M told me he has a 4 day weekend coming up. A 4 DAY WEEKEND! I haven’t spent that much time with my husband in months. I’m thankful for that, even if we both wished we could do something more amazing with the time. It will be nice just to be with him and spend time as a family.

Hope you enjoyed my take on gratitude and hope it helps give you direction, if you were looking.

I would love to hear what you are thankful for! Leave a comment about something for your previous week (or this one)!

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Kids & Culture: Making the Most of Vacations with Young Kids

You may have noticed that many of my posts in regards to parenting and motherhood mention my strong belief that mothers should support other mothers. In this age of “Mommy Wars” and so much judgement and competition, I firmly believe that we as women, can change that and start being friends, allies and supporters.

In thinking about this, I thought I would begin offering guest posts on my blog for topics about parenting, motherhood, children, etc. Lucky for me, Ace over at Life in Dutch, volunteered for this week! If you are interested in doing a guest post (it’s free!), email me at fromcasinostocastles@gmail.com or contact me on any social media platform. Without further delay, here’s Ace!

Ace

Hi! I am an American expat living in the Netherlands with my husband, son, and two cats. I blog at Life in Dutch to share my experiences as an expat, traveler, and parent, and whatever else comes to mind. When I’m not blogging or planning a museum visit, I’m learning the Dutch language, crocheting, or making a mess of the kitchen!

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Kids & Culture: Making the Most of Vacation with Young Kids

Vacations with young kids can be daunting. Bedtimes and naps are left to fate; you carry so many snacks, extra clothing, and methods of entertainment that you could supply an army regiment; and any semblance of a routine is thrown to the wind. Sometimes a whole vacation is planned around kid-centered activities (amusement parks, zoos, children’s museums) to ensure the kids have a great time and minimize the chance of meltdowns; and that’s okay – it is important to have activities your child would normally pick if given the choice. BUT it is possible to include the “cultural” visits adults want to make AND have children enjoy them!

When my husband and I decided to move to the Netherlands from the US with our toddler son, we knew that we didn’t want to miss some of the once-in-a-lifetime cultural opportunities that living in Europe would present. From the beginning, we decided that our trips would always include the museums and cathedral visits and historical walking tours that we enjoy and we would work to develop our son’s appreciation for art and history. When we learned that many European museums and monuments offer free admission to children, we were even more convinced that we shouldn’t miss out.

Even the thought of taking a young kid into a museum or on a walking tour can give you a nervous tick – but with the right kind of preparation, kids can go into the experience with enthusiasm. So, how have I prepared my now almost-4-year-old for cultural excursions over the past year?

Reading topical books several times before you go. I’m not talking about dragging out the encyclopedia here (and if you still use one, I’d like to introduce you to Google and Wikipedia). You may already have age-appropriate books in the house, on the iPad/Kindle, or at your local library that are related to the place you’re going. Before our trip to Dublin we read S is for Shamrock by Eve Bunting and The Story of St. Patrick’s Day by Patricia Pingry; before our trip to Paris we read the Madeline series by Ludwig Bemelman. These books provided a point of reference through story (Madeline lives in an old house in Paris near the Eiffel Tower) and illustrations (S is for Shamrock has a nice illustration of the River Liffey in Dublin) and helped build excitement about things we would see and do on the upcoming journey. In fact, this tactic has been so successful, my son has started asking when we will go to London so we can see where Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear lives.

Take the books with you on the trip. If you have smaller versions of the books, bring them along! It’s fun to be able to point at picture in the book and then point at the real thing – this is especially fun with young toddlers as they start to realize that a picture can be of something that belongs in reality as well as in their stories. If the book is too big to take along, you can always read it once you’ve returned home and say, “Remember when we saw this-and-that?”

Google is the friend you can always ask for help planning without having to owe a favor later. We live in an amazing technological era where we can pull up an image or fact about just about anything on our computers or mobile phone. We google pictures of landmarks and monuments with our son and talk about going to visit that place specifically. This is especially helpful when preparing for a museum visit. Pulling up an image of a piece of art or an artifact gives your child something to look for in the museum and help them focus during the visit. Being able to show a child what you’re talking about or answer questions about a place or object is easy, and encourages their own curiosity.

Make a museum plan. If you want to visit museums, know what’s inside so your child can look for things. Some museums offer activities for kids on their websites or at their information desks. Better yet, make your own scavenger hunt! I recently used the book Monkey and Mole at the Rijksmuseum by Gitte Spee (available in Dutch and English) to do a scavenger hunt with my son at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. We used the book as a guide to find all of the same artwork as the characters while we toured the museum – and he loved it. While we were looking for the items from the book, we took our time to look at other things that caught his eye.

Following Monkey and Mole at the Rijksmuseum

Following Monkey and Mole at the Rijksmuseum

Make an itinerary for your sightseeing days. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be for you and your kids. We’re always on the move during our vacations, and having a definitive next stop on the tour gives my son something to look for and look forward too. More importantly, it alleviates the boredom and frustration that can develop while your children wait for you to decide what to do next.

Give a quick and gentle reminder about behavior expectations before you enter. With the excitement to see what’s inside, a child’s natural curiosity and buoyancy may get away from them. It can be helpful to remind your child to be “quiet as a churchmouse” so as not to disturb worshipers in a cathedral or basilica or that an art museum has lots of “pretties” that are nice to look at but not for touching.

Quiet as a churchmouse watching the Nieuwekerk choir in Delft

Quiet as a churchmouse watching the Nieuwekerk choir in Delft

Talk about your trip. Constantly. We usually start 5 to 7 days before the trip, but some kids may need more or less time to process the idea of the trip – depending on age and understanding of time. Any conversation will also show your own excitement for the vacation. After you return home – keep talking about the trip. The things you saw can continue opening up discussions with your child. After seeing the Venus de Milo at The Louvre in Paris, my son wanted to know where her arms went, and continues to ask even though the trip is over. That unique statue has opened up discussions about our trip, the things we find in museums, and the jobs performed by archeologists.

Spotting the Eiffel Tower  for the first time

Spotting the Eiffel Tower for the first time

Even with all this preparation it is still important to remember that you can’t jump into a full day’s worth of museums right away. Like anything else, your child will likely need practice to learn to be a good museum visitor and sightseer. Start out with a few visits locally and your child will learn what to expect from museums and how they are expected to behave so they’re ready when it comes time for a family vacation. And as your child becomes a seasoned museum goer, it’s still a good idea to be prepared for fatigue. Most museums are happy to allow buggies/strollers and baby bottles/sippy cups; and you can be confident that your child can have a place to relax while you keep touring. You can see more museum trip tips here.

Most importantly, have fun! Let your children surprise you with their interests as they explore. My son regularly asks to visit the Van Gogh Museum, the museum dedicated to my favorite artist. Sharing my passions with my son and seeing his own excitement as he finds new things is exhilarating and so fulfilling. Working in cultural trips into our vacation routine has been one of the best decisions we’ve made for our son.

Sightseeing Paris with my Little Man

Sightseeing Paris with my Little Man

Hope you all enjoyed those great ideas from Ace! Make sure you stop by her blog, say hello and follow along on her adventures!

 

 

 

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How Do You Define Extraordinary?

Everyone has a different idea of what being an expat must be like. Many think it’s a glamorous lifestyle of nothing but traveling and indulgence. Maybe, for some, that is exactly what it’s like. For others, it may be mostly consumed of everyday life in what feels like an entirely different world. While it has great allure, beauty and excitement, it can also have moments of loneliness, isolation and hardship. It is life just like anywhere else.

But, it is the change itself that makes this expat life so different from the life I would have had in the states. Not because of the different country and culture, but because of the possible doors that can open as a result.

hardships

I am a firm believer in everything happens for a reason. I think that also makes me believe in destiny. I look back on certain events in my life and think about how every little choice we make affects our future in some grand way. Someday, when I share the story of how M and I met, you will be able to actually see a path of choices that directly led me to him. I can’t deny that it was destiny, even if I sound like a big cornball.

In the states, I had my career, worked full-time and M stayed home with our son. It is completely reversed here. My career that I once knew is, in essence, over. From what I have learned, I can’t pursue the same type of career here. This has me thinking, what will become of my life here? What new door is going to open? What new possibilities do I have with this new life?

things happen

When one door closes, another one always opens. I do have moments of great anxiety over this, but it’s just fear of the unknown and of failure. Yet, at the same time, I get excited. It is a chance to do something different; change my path in life. It is opportunity knocking and all I have to do is answer with an open mind. 

Recently, a fellow blogger commented on a post of mine saying she thinks I’m destined for great things. This was an amazing comment; stunning actually. If I am being honest, she is not the first person to tell me something like this. So again, this has me thinking {i think a lot}, what is greatness and how do you define it?

Is it to be a good and loving wife? A dependable and loyal friend? Is it to raise my son to be a good man? Maybe. But to me, these are a given and will be done regardless because they are my own expectations as a wife, a friend and a mother. These are the norm and not the extraordinary. So, could it be to have a successful career?

How will I define extraordinary in my own life? How will I know when I have accomplished something great?

destiny

I have always felt something inside me; a longing for something more, something bigger. I feel it way down deep in the core of my being. I can tell you that I have a story; a deep, dark, powerful story. One that I don’t share with many people. It is inside me and I believe it has the potential to be my greatness. And this expat life, may just have given me the opportunity to create it and share it.

What do you think? Do most people feel they have this destiny inside them to be great? To share something wonderful or be wonderful?
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Snail Mail Collective

snail mail

I love getting mail and by saying love, I’m sure that is understatement. Maybe it’s because it’s such a lost art these days, but who doesn’t love getting a package, catalog or card?

So, when I heard about Melyssa and Chelsea’s Snail Mail Collective, I had to participate. In case you haven’t heard of it, you basically sign up and they will pair you with another person. They will try to make it someone in another country, but at the very least, someone in another state. Once they announce the pairings, you chat with your partner via email, twitter, Facebook, smoke signals, whatever. You get to know each other and then you send each other a small gift ($5) and a postcard from where you live. Each month has a theme that your gift should try to “comply” with.

September was the first time I joined up. I am only just now posting because my package was held up at customs so I only received it yesterday! Yay and danke Zoll!

Anyway, I was paired with Sam who blogs over at The Married Couple. She and her husband have  a fascinating history of working with the Peace Corps. Now they are both in a transitional period in Maryland. That being said, the theme for September was “Back to School” and not only are neither of us in school, but me having just relocated and Sam being in a state of transition it was difficult to stick with the theme.

We decided to share something from where we live and give a taste of home, so to speak. You can see her post about my package here.

I was so surprised when I got her package! I had an idea she would send a picture frame because it’s something I said I needed more of to make my home feel like home. I wanted more pictures in my house of friends and family back home. She did not disappoint!

Candles, Frame & Card

She sent that really cute, rustic-type frame and actually had her card inside of it. {even more cute!} The part that really surprised me were the tealight candles. During Fall I love to burn a pumpkin spice candle. I mistakenly bought a pumpkin vanilla candle last year and it is just too sweet for me. So, I have been kind of sad about not having it because it is just a piece of home for me and let’s get serious here….I love the smell!

So, imagine my joy when I not only saw, but smelled these!!

Candles

And the best part, she had no idea of my love for pumpkin spice or my homesickness for it!

This was a fun and great experience. I enjoyed getting to know Sam and I hope you go check out her blog, see the package I sent her and give her some love for sending me some pumpkin spice!! ;-)

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